Wright Brothers Centennial Collection - Shop Our Store - "The Coin Toss"

“Coin Toss”

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Wright Brothers Centennial Collection - Shop Our Store - "The Coin Toss"

“On December 14th 1903, the coin toss established the order in which the Wright brothers would attempt to fly.”

December 14, 1903 was a warm, sunny day with no wind.  At one o’clock in the afternoon, Wilbur and Orville Wright finished their last adjustments on the Flyer.  They placed a red flag on the side of the camp wall, signaling the men at the U.S. Lifesaving Station at Kill Devil Hills half a mile away for help.  The Lifesavers who responded were John T. Daniels, Bob Wescott, Tom Beachman, and William Dough.  Along with them came “Uncle Benny” O’Neal, a young boy, Adam Ethridge, and another child with a dog.

The seven men pushed the Flyer up Kill Devil Hill by leap-frogging the four 15-foot rails.  Wilbur and Orville left the seven people by the Flyer as they walked down to the camera.  Orville checked the apparatus and then moved over to Wilbur where they said a prayer.  Wilbur took a coin out his vest pocket, and the two men watched as he tossed the coin into the air.  The coin landed in Wilbur’s favor.  They returned to the top of the hill, and Wilbur climbed onto the Flyer.

The engine was started.  The noise frightened the two children so badly that they ran away with the dog and did not return.  With Orville holding its right wing, the Flyer started down Kill Devil Hill.  The speed of the craft caused Orville to relinquish his hold after 35 feet.  Forty feet down the rail, the Flyer started to lift.  Wilbur pulled back quickly, causing the Flyer to climb too steeply and then stall.  It crashed on its right wing.  The flight of 3.5 seconds and a distance of 18 inches was not long enough to count.  Wilbur was not hurt, and the Flyer was repaired in three days.

The painting illustrates the living conditions inside Wilbur and Orville’s camp in 1903.  The workshop at one end faced the living quarters at the other end.  There was a kitchen, a sitting area with an old carbide can converted into a wood-burning stove, a dining table with chairs, and a washroom with wash stand and chamber.  Their sleeping quarters were in a loft above the kitchen with a ladder between two suspended beds.

Wilbur described the temperature conditions in a letter to home as,

“We have no trouble keeping warm at night. In addition to the classification of last year, to wit, 2, 3, and 4 blanket nights, we now have 5 blankets nights and 5 blankets & 2 quilts.  Next comes 5 blankets, 2 quilts & fire; then 5, 2, fire & hot-water jugs.  This is as far as we have got so far.  Next comes the addition of sleeping without undressing, then shoes & hats, and finally overcoats.  We intend to be comfortable while we are here.” – Freeman, Russell, The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane

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